Shepherd on Horseback: Guarding Against Fear and Hopelessness

 

horseback shepherd shee cowboy trail crop DSC_0122When I was a child we received official government pamphlets in the mail that frightened me. They showed red circles, like ripples, over a map of a city. The closer you lived to the center of the circles the more likely you would die from the inevitable nuclear holocaust about to be dropped on our northern Canadian city.

“It’s because of the oil and pipelines,” I heard the adults say. “They make us a target.”

I remember what it was like to be raised in an atmosphere of fear by a generation scarred by memories of WWII and The Depression. I was a powerless child who felt responsible for stopping the bomb. I was part of the generation who could not trust authority because, after all, it was “the good guys” who dropped the bomb the first time. There was no hope for the world. As young adults we sought escape in self-indulgent sexual activity and recreational drugs. We questioned the wisdom of bringing children into such a world.

The great world-ending event never happened in my parent’s lifetime — not that it couldn’t have happened, but it didn’t. Thus far it has not happened in mine, nor in my adult children’s. In fact, we enjoy a higher standard of living than my parents or grandparents did.

When I read about the history of various faith movements that went off the rails after a generation or two, the same factors keep showing up: the exploitation of power, and fear of the end of the world — situations where people cast aside discernment and agreed to rash actions because of the “extenuating circumstances.”

This morning I read a poll asking for people’s reactions to the impending end of the world due to climate change and the carbon mess my admittedly self-focussed generation brought down upon our heads. The poll gave these options. Essentially they were:

1) We will soon be doomed.  2) We’re doomed now.  3) Maybe the people who created the problem could be trusted to fix it? 4) Never mind. We’re doomed.

I listen to my grandchildren who tell me, with desperation in their voices, that their teachers say the world will end in twelve years because of carbon emissions and plastic pollution. A young friend talked about the “immorality” of giving birth to another generation born to certain death.

I recognize the same net that held me captive for so many years: fear.

The reasons for concern could be true. The reasons for hopelessness are not.

If we fail to consult the Creator, who understands his creation much better than we do, we are left feeling like the helpless children of the sixties reading the red circle pamphlets. They were burdened with responsibility without authority. When we try to solve the problem all by ourselves, we are like shepherd-less sheep each wandering off right into the danger we fear most. Our debriefing sessions, if we live long enough to schedule them, include the phrase, “It seemed like a good idea at the time.”

Fear and hopelessness were the weapons the enemy of my soul used to manipulate my actions and willingness to surrender power for most of my life. I see him tripping up this generation in the same way. Fear manipulates their thinking to the point where many see no future for themselves or the children they will not allow to be born – even if those children, like many generations before them, carry solutions their parents could not envision.

The Good Shepherd has resources the sheep do not have. He is willing to put himself between them and the predator. He is willing to venture into the wilderness to save the one who foolishly got him/herself into a terrible mess of brambles. Like the shepherd on horseback I saw on the Cowboy Trail last week, he is near — and he is good.

Psalm 23 was written by a King, and former shepherd, who found himself in a terrible mess of his own making. He recognizes another option to the trajectory his foolishness started: 5) Turn to God and trust in his ways.

The Lord is my best friend and my shepherd.
I always have more than enough.
 
He offers a resting place for me in his luxurious love.
His tracks take me to an oasis of peace, the quiet brook of bliss.
 
That’s where he restores and revives my life.
He opens before me pathways to God’s pleasure
and leads me along in his footsteps of righteousness
so that I can bring honor to his name….

…So why would I fear the future?
For your goodness and love pursue me all the days of my life…

(Psalm 23:1-3, 6a The Passion Translation)

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Carefree in the Care of God

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I looked out the window above my computer. This is what God’s voice sounds like — the rush of wings. This is what God’s voice looks like — birds feasting on berries in a mountain ash tree on a cold Canadian winter morning.

I was worrying. I went to the pharmacy this morning, expecting to pick up a prescription. It’s a unique medication formulated for a unique condition. (My case is “complex,” the doctors say, nearly every time I see them.)

The dear people who faithfully count out my pills told me they were just informed that the medication was on back-order and the company didn’t expect to be able to send any in the dosage I require until July. They seemed as shocked as I was.

This is not a medication one can suddenly stop taking without dire effect. I have an eight day supply left. My pharmacist is working to find a solution.

I was sitting here at my desk not feeling frantic with worry, but somewhat perturbed with worry when I heard a rush of wings and saw a flock of birds swoop past my window. The breeze they stirred up shook the panes slightly and immediately caught my attention.

In unison, they flew away, circled around the neighbourhood, then flew back. Then they flew away again. When they returned, they landed on the mountain ash tree, full of red berries ignored by other over-wintering birds and hanging from branches too high for the deer to reach.

It’s like a feast of unique red fruit was prepared months ago during the long hot days of summer and now, it beckons. A table spreads before them in the winter wilderness of snow and ice.

I suddenly remembered Jesus talking about his heavenly Father providing for the birds. All morning, well all week, really, I have teetered on the teary brink of feeling like I felt so often during my childhood — unnoticed, unimportant, out of step, and out of season in a wrong place/wrong time sort of way.

The unspoken question as faint as a birdwing fluttered in my heart: Do you see me? Do you care? Will you look after me when my own responses to “take care of yourself” are not enough?

The birds whooshed away and whooshed back a few minutes later. I watched. I listened. I heard.

“Take the carefree birds as your example,” He said to my heart. “Do you ever see them worry?”

“They don’t grow their own food or put it in a storehouse for later. Yet God takes care of every one of them, feeding each of them from his love and goodness.

Isn’t your life more precious to God than a bird? Be carefree in the care of God!”

(Luke 12:24 TPT)

He’s got this.

 

Worship: The Starting Point for Acquiring Wisdom

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The starting point for acquiring wisdom
is to be consumed with awe as you worship Jehovah-God.

To receive the revelation of the Holy One,
you must come to the one who has living-understanding.

Wisdom will extend your life,
making every year more fruitful than the one before.

(Proverbs 9:10, 11 TPT)

Motivation

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I walked by the off-leash park the other day. I watched the dogs for a while after their owners released them. Some stay close to the gate at first, but they soon run for the open field. They expressed such joy in freedom.

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I’m thinking about “motivation.” It’s the word suggested for meditation today in the Lenten Snapshot challenge I am following. At first I thought about taking photos of the obvious, symbols of motivations for doing what I don’t want to do, like scales or a boot to the rear. But I tend to look for something different, so I began to think about my motivation for extending myself to do what I actually do want to do and don’t have to do.

In the past few years my motivation has changed. I used to base my actions on wanting to please God, please my family, and not annoy my neighbours too much. That meant subjecting myself to other people’s standards, and to some extent, “God’s standards” as defined by other people’s standards (aka their interpretation of the Bible.)

My friend helped me realize that my quest has changed. We were discussing why I can’t seem to make progress on the novel I’ve been writing (mostly in my head) for years.

“You realize this story is about you,” she said.

“Of course, I do. I only know what I know –or think I know– and that is going to come out.”

“Your heroine was born in a prison, right?”

“Yes. And then she ends up in a cloistered convent against her will and eventually tries to escape.”

“You are the one who was born in a prison and kept in a kind of convent, you know. You were cloistered by legalistic religion. You are the both the writer and the reader. You hit writer’s block when you changed your audience to a demographic that would be marketable. You need to free yourself from asking ‘What would please this audience?’ and get back to writing your way out of convention to the place of your own freedom.”

I doodled on the paper in front of me because that’s what I do when I’m thinking.

“You’re good,” I told her. Believe it or not, I ran out of words.

She put her finger on an inconsistency in my life, a misalignment. My motivation used to be guessing at what other people wanted and then fulfilling that need to make myself useful, and thereby avoid rejection. I’m changing. I am looking for freedom.

My motivation is changing. This verse to “the foolish Galatians,” who were trying to gain sanctification by going back to earning approval via the old covenant laws, inspires me to do what I do, to worship, to paint, to take photos, to write, to walk in the countryside, to sit around the table talking to kindred spirits. The Passion Translation (which I am calling the emotional content version) puts Galatians 5:1 this way:

Let me be clear, the Anointed One has set us free—not partially, but completely and wonderfully free! We must always cherish this truth and stubbornly refuse to go back into the bondage of our past.

I took photos as I walked around another park yesterday (aptly named “Idlewilde”). Winter snow and ice still cover the hills and lake. Trees rest in a dormant season that seems particularly long this year. But I find freedom in what I see. I see rest.

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I am more motivated by freedom from performance-based Christianity, freedom from trying to meet expectations that do not come from my loving heavenly father, freedom to be a human being and not a human doing, freedom to rest and know I am loved perfectly by the One who created all this.

I hear him say, “Be still. Cease striving. Know Me. Know that I am God. I will be exalted in the earth. I will be acknowledged by the nations. You are not in charge of fixing the world, nor my P. R.. You only have to extend the love you have known by the power of the grace you have been given.”

He takes off the religious leash and says, “Now run, girl. Run.”

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And In Kindness You Follow Behind Me

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I ordered a grilled chicken salad with dressing on the side.

“I don’t eat chicken,” she said firmly.

I knew my new acquaintance was not a vegetarian. She had just ordered a steak before passing the menu back to the waitress.

“Is it the taste or the texture?” I asked.

“Neither,” she said. “When I was a child I was chased by a psycho chicken and I have never liked it since then. I can still see that mad hen with those crazy googly eyes, flapping and squawking and nipping at my little bare legs. I couldn’t have been more than three. Scarred me for life.” She snapped a bread stick with vehemence.

Now I happen to think roasting a googly-eyed bird in a pan ringed with some nice farm fresh vegetables could have been a way to exercise suitable revenge toward a chicken that ruled the roost fifty (I looked at her again as she guzzled her drink), make that sixty years ago, but here a long-dead crazy fowl affected my dining partner’s menu choices all these years later.

I shouldn’t have laughed at her, even silently. A few days later I caught myself crossing the street to avoid a German Shepherd dog behind a wire fence. He wasn’t barking or showing any aggressive tendencies. I just don’t like them since I felt the teeth of one sink into my leg and drag me across the back lane when I was a young child. Eventually I overcame my fear of dogs and enjoyed faithful pets who curled up behind my knees on the couch when I needed the comfort of a companion, but I never considered owning a big dog, especially a German Shepherd.

This week, a number of friends and acquaintances wrote “Me too” on their public social media posts. Female celebrities have admitted to feeling powerless, or scared, or deeply offended when they were treated dishonourably by sexually aggressive men in positions of power. This seems to have triggered a tipping point and given permission to thousands of women (and some men) to admit publicly, some for the first time, that they also carry scars for life as the result of events in the past. Thus the “Me Too” campaign.

I’ve written about my own “me too” before. But since I have a decidedly stubborn anti-trendy streak and I also know what it is like to not be heard, this time I chose to simply listen. Sometimes it feels like girls who escaped being treated as sexual objects, even at a young age, are in the minority in this culture. Some women who posted may have had experiences that might seem to pale in comparison to those who have been seriously abused, but they need to be heard too. I’ve also heard the stories of betrayed boys and victims of female perpetrators.

I know people who have walked away from head-on collisions at highway speed. I also know of a person who became a quadriplegic as a result of falling out of bed. Damage is not always related to intent. The justice system, which tends to measure consequences on the basis of physical trauma, has difficultly understanding that psychological wounding is more commensurate with types of relationships and the level of betrayal involved than photographable bruises. It’s a complex issue.

Some people can walk away from incessant sexual harassment and outright assault relatively unscathed and others have known deep life-long trauma from an incident that seems no more serious to the rest of us than being chased by an annoying chicken. On the other hand, some “perpetrators” who unintentionally caused great pain are not so much wicked as clumsy and ignorant. It’s complex.

My point is that we see a lot of lonely walking wounded struggling on a challenging path everyday. Some hide the scars better than others. Some are brave enough to seek healing. Some need hope that healing is possible.

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I was thinking about this as I meditated on Psalm 139 in the Passion Translation this week. When I read this verse I couldn’t breathe for a moment.

You’ve gone into my future to prepare the way,
And in kindness you follow behind me,
To spare me from the harm of my past.

I’ve written before about Christ preparing a way before us. I enjoy the imagery of being surrounded with loving protection. To “abide in Christ” is one of the greatest privileges of relationship with him. I can see him walking before, behind and beside, but I see it as a place, a spot on the road of this journey. I hadn’t really considered that not only does he move in space to protect me, but he moves in time to plant provisions like clues in a treasure hunt in my future. But this! He goes into my past to guard me from its negative influence as well.

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The Bible tells the stories of many people whose pasts could have defined them, setting limits on their futures: a youngest forgotten son, a rejected woman, a bereaved mother, a slave-labourer, an abducted child, a sex-slave, an emasculated spoil of war, a boy from a town with a poor reputation…

A therapist once asked me, “Why are you doing so well?” It seemed an odd question considering where I was sitting at the time – in the office of someone professionally trained to help people who were not doing well. I must have looked puzzled.

“No, seriously,” she said. “People who have stories like yours usually exhibit more serious permanent psychological damage. I want to know why you are not worse.”

I thought for a moment.

“Because from the time I was very young I have known that Someone walks with me, Someone who has suffered everything I have, and still loves, Someone who values me and sees me for who I really am and will help me walk away from my past,” I told her.

And in that moment I heard my Lord speak through my own voice. Jesus has already been in my future. He walks beside me in my present and he goes back into my past to break the curse of negative expectations and keep them from sinking their teeth into me and dragging me back there.

He heals and surrounds me in both space and time – and he is willing to do the same for you.

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The journey continues.

The song “You Surround Me” has been playing in my head.

You Surround Me (live from Dublin)
Karen Padgett, Daphne Rademaker and Brian Doerksen

Gaelic lyrics and translation included

Tá tú thart orm (You’re all around me)
Tá tú i gceartlár mo chroí (In the centre of my heart)
You surround me Tá tú thart orm (You’re all around me)
You indwell me Tá tú i gceartlár mo chroí (In the centre of my heart)
You surround me

You surround me Tá tú thart orm (You’re all around me)
You indwell me
You’re beside me Tá tú ag mo thaobh (You’re at my side)
Ever present always near

You’re the whisper Is tú ag cogar (You whisper)
Calling my name gently Ag glaoch m’ainm (Calling my name)
Love eternal Grá go síoraí (Love eternal)
Reaching to me jealous for me Ag faire orm (Watching over me )
Go héadmhar dom (Jealous for me)

I will stay with You forever
Arm in arm we’ll walk together
You will never let me go

I can’t live my life without You
My whole will to live is for You
You’ve awakened me to know

You surround me You indwell me
You’re beside me ever present always near

You’re the whisper calling my name gently
Love eternal reaching to me jealous for me
Is tú ag cogar (You whisper)
Go sámh m’ainm (My name gently )
Grá go síoraí (Love eternal)
I can’t live my life without You
I can’t live my life without You
I can’t live my life without You

A Dhia fanfaidh mé leat choíche (God I will stay with you forever)
Lámh ar lámh le chéile (Arm in arm together)
Ní scaoilfidh tú mé riamh (You will never let me go)
Ní fiú ní fiú mo bheatha gan tú (My life is not worth it not worth it
without You)
Thug tú cúis ‘s ciall dom’ shaoil-se (You gave meaning and sense to my life)
Mhúscail tú mo chroí (You awakened my heart)